Sunday, 18 January 2009
It was windy.
But on the brightside we did see a glimpse of the Japan Sea. The Japan Sea was enjoying the wind and crashing happily about on the coast. We did at one point venture out of the warmth and protection of the car to have a little walk, battling against the strong winds to have a look at Ganmon [巌門]. We walked down to the edge of the sea, then went down some stairs that we installed in a tunnel the the mass of rock that formed part of the coast line. It was dark. We came out at the edge of a sea-eroded arch. However, the sea was rapidly and rather energetically approching the rock that we standing on. And as all the signs painted on the wall of the cave-like place that we were currently standing in were all pointing in the direction from which we had just came and said 'EXIT' we thought we'd better leave before the sea decided to take us with it.
Parts of the town had the traditional mud walls, which were partly covered in straw sheeting when we went (we thought it was to stop them from getting too damp. Anyway, this is apparently the Nagamachi district[長町] of Kanazawa - where the samurai used to live.
Wondering around the Nagamachi district, we came across a very nice little ceramics shop (which also included a small museum and coffee shop - but we just went into the shop part). Unfortunately, the things that we liked were around a million Yen...so a little out of our budget. The ceramics were very impressive, we were particularly taken by some small tea cups (with lids) which had very fine Japanese calligraphy penned on the *inside* of the cup. One of them was barely bigger than a thimble.
Wednesday, 14 January 2009
a view of Ainokura [相倉] and a Gassho [合掌] in Ogimachi [荻町]
Dinner and breakfast...and there was alot more than is shown in the photos...
The second Gassho we stayed in, was smaller but much cosier (only 8 guests, only 2 of which were Japanese). The room was quite nice here, as was the food....
We found our places to stay through this website [http://www.vill.shirakawa.gifu.jp/e/] just click on 'Accomodation' in the index, and it will take you to a list of places to stay. Generally you have to phone up the place to book.
Tuesday, 13 January 2009
Monday, 12 January 2009
・Old Private Houses - Furui-machi-nami [古い町並]: Recognised as a site National Preservation area of Historically Important Buildings
・Hida Beef - [飛騨牛]: Tasty beef which rivals Kobe's famous brand and which has also been in the news for cloning...(here)
・Sarubobo dolls - [さるぼぼ]: Little faceless dolls which come in a range of sizes who wear little black cloth hats, and an apron (which usually has the Kanji Hida [飛騨] written on the front). The dolls act as good luck charms, and different colours basically represent wishes for different kinds of luck. Traditionally they red in colour - which is meant to ask for easy delivery of a child, but also come in about 5 other colours: yellow, blue, pink, green and black which wish for money, study, love, good health and riddance of bad luck respectively.
・Festival Floats - [屋台]: There are 25 different floats in Takayama, made by craftsmen for which the Takayama district is famous for. 12 of these floats are used in the Spring Festival [春の高山祭] - Held April 14-15th and also known as the Sanno Festival. Another 11 of the floats appear in the Autumn Festival [秋の高山祭] which is held on October 9-10th, and the remaining 2 take part in different festivals all together.
We saw lots of the big, purpose built store houses for the festival floats dotted all around town, but they were all locked up so we weren't able to see any of the things themselves. On the brightside there are photos of all the various floats HERE.
Anyhoo, we only got to Takayama in the late afternoon, so there was only really time to have a quick look around the old town district [古い町並] - wondering into the few shops that were still open at 5pm (which wasn't many), have tea and cake in a little coffee shop, then look for a place for dinner.
[居酒屋] with a small barbeque in the middle of the table. They even kindly offered us a English menu - which included lots of pictures to aid the choosing and ordering-via-pointing process.
The food was great. But we did get told off by the old lady serving us when we commited a hideous crime of turning over the shitake mushrooms on the barbeque - which then led her to watching our food like a hawk (in a caring way - it was quite funny actually - she was vetting all the meat and veg coming off the grill plate 'chicken: OKAY' etc...) just to make sure we didn't do anything wrong again. Anyway, you should cook shitake mushrooms with their tops facing the fire. DON'T turn them over, or they loose all their juice and you end up eating dried, chewy mushroom. Which is bad.
As explained to us by the minshuku owner, the hike on the Tsumago [妻籠] side of the 'Tsumago-Magome Hiking Trail was quite nice and peaceful, mainly walking through forest and not too close to the road. We had actually stopped the car not too far from the Otaki-Metaki Falls, so we walked along the highway (as suggested by the minshuku owner) in order to approach the falls from downstream. This approach would apparently give us much nicer photos of the falls, than if we followed the hiking trail (as the path takes you past the upstream end of the falls).
After going down some a stairs we crossed some wooden bridges to get across the rivers to have a look at the falls.
The area was nice and secluded (you couldn't hear any traffic on the road above (although there weren't that many cars around anyway. The only other people we really saw were other couples doing the same kind of sightseeing that we were. I guess the weather wasn't so good for hiking...
Anyway, we continued hiking on the trail this time, and stopped just as we got to the Nagano [長野] Gifu [岐阜] Prefectural border...Then we walked back along the road to the car and drove on to Takayama [高山].
Saturday, 3 January 2009
Tsumago-juku [妻籠宿] an some mini sharon fruit [かき] hanging in a shop window (aren't their little faces cute?)
Then it got dark very quickly, so we headed home for our 6pm dinner at the minshuku. The dinner was absolutely amazing. The little fish was the tastiest fish I can remember - the flesh was soft and juicy - and he was apparently caught from down stream (a little river runs behind the house). Infact all the veges we ate that night had been grown by the minshuku owners and carefully prepared by the lady of the house. And there was lots of food: pounded rice rolled into balls and skewered on to sticks and covered in a sweet and nutty sauce (soy sauce, honey, ground seasame, sugar, salt), pumpkin, carrot and daikon* pickled with some yuzu#, a steamed cup of mushrooms covered with a layer of pounded sticky rice, tempura, rice, miso soup.
It was a lot of food.
*big long white radish thing 白萝卜
#citrus fruit, tangy taste - in between a lemon and an orange
The traditional open fire place in the minshuku and the owner of the house (who also sang us a old folk song and gave us tips on sightseeing - a very nice man)
This minshuku was great; fantastic food (we had a huge breakfast too), very welcoming, helpful and friendly owners, nice traditional futon room with a very nice view out the back - in which we were kept toasty warm in despite the cold weather, and very new toilets and bathroom - which were in a very recently refurbished part of the house.
Just in case you want to know, we stayed at Koshinduka [こしんづか] and I thoroughly recommend it (homepage here).
Thursday, 1 January 2009
After a long and hard ten days, our fishy was tired and looking a little stressed (that and his water was getting dirty after only one day as opposed to one week resulting in him swimming in a tank of filth for a the last few days). So we decided that it was time for him to get a tank. An actual tank with a filter and more pebbles, as opposed to the plastic bread box he had been living in.
Right. so. We didn't make it back to Europe for holidays this Christmas because;
1. When we were planning the winter holidays back in Sept, the plane ticket prices were a little too high for my liking,
2. We thought that we had better make the best use of our time in Japan by seeing a bit of the country while we were here,
3. We also thought we could do our bit in boosting the Japanese economy.
So, we've ended up spending what we would have spent on just an air ticket to Paris or London on a 10day road trip around Nagano [長野県] and Gifu [岐阜県] Prefectures (which are North and North-Westy of Tokyo).
As Greg has a French driving licence - he could do a direct transfer to a Japanese drivers licence (unlike my British one which involves another test...hmmm...no thanks) so we rented a car from Nissan via ToCoo!.
The plan was too drive along the Chuo Highway [中央道] out of Tokyo towards Tsumago [妻籠] and Magome [馬籠], stop there in a minshuku [民宿] for a night and do a bit of sightseeing before heading off to Shirakawago [白川郷].
Tsumago [妻籠] and Magome [馬籠] - Designated a site of National Architectural Preservation where you can still find an Edo-style post town in its entirety.
Minshuku [民宿] - A guest house run by the family which live inside the house itself, usually offering dinner and breakfast.
Shirakawago [白川郷] - A village in Gifu Prefecture famous for it's traditional farm houses with steep-sided thatched roofs.
After Shirakawago [白川郷] we would head up to Kanazawa [金沢] and try to see a bit of the Noto-Peninsula [能登半島]. Then we head East wards and then South towards Hakuba [白馬] in Nagano [長野] for a bit of snowboarding.